Modeling & The Current State (Modeling the “As Is” process is mostly a waste of time)

December 8, 2008

It seems a contentious point of view in Business Process Management – but when we come up to the “Understand Phase” (“As Is” or “Current State” model ), we recommend “time boxing” the work to ensure that the activity is kept at a suitably high level. The intention of this activity is really to create a baseline; a reference point for the BPM project.

Now those who continue with their “legacy thinking” perspective usually decide that it is important to create a detailed description of how work happens. They model everything in sight, trying to create an accurate representation of the work as it happens today. While this is good for the “billable hours” of consulting firms, it does little for the business managers engaged on a journey of change and discovery.

The point is that the amount of work expended here is usually wholly inappropriate to the benefit derived. If your intention is to change the way things happen, gathering a great deal of detail around current work practices is a waste of time. If you are going to improve things (with or without the use of automation), then you will be changing how the process is carried out … i.e. how things happen today will soon become a thing of the past.

Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely essential to develop a baseline understanding of the ways things are done. It’s just a question of emphasis. The issue for those involved in the exercise is just what degree of detail is required. They should be asking “can we stop now?”

The real purpose of current state modeling is to establish a baseline – so that the team can establish a realistic business case (allowing them to track benefits and improvements during and after implementation), and to identify the areas that require attention.

This is more about a pragmatic assessment of reality and clarification of current performance metrics than it is about process modeling. The metrics in question are those that the customer of the process really cares about (not the detailed cycle times of some low-level sub-process). From a modeling point of view, the need is for enough structure to hang the metrics upon (and perhaps one level of detail below). Anything more than that is a waste of time and resources.

So how much detail do you really need? Well, I normally start with high level outline of the process – the major chunks and then draw a simple high level process model. I recommend a high level BPMN diagram, but I usually seek to contrast that model with a Role Activity Diagram (not the same as a flow diagram with swim lanes, RADs model how the Roles involve change state and synchronize their actions), and perhaps simple Object State Transition Network (how the things moving through the model change state).

With a high-level flow diagram or outline of the process, it is really very straight forward to develop these alternative views, but they really do help people see things differently. I often say that the problem with Flow Diagrams, is that “the more you look at them, the less they mean.” Flow diagrams always look correct – for example, in my recent book “BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide” (authored with Stephen White the main author of the BPMN specification itself), I have yet to receive a note from anyone telling us that we have a major flaw in one of the models (yes, there is at least one). It just looks correct (and this is a book where we tried our very hardest to make sure every model was “right”).

Incidentally, the best reference on RADs is Martyn Ould’s “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach.” And for OSTN, I prefer the IDEF3 perspective as it is relatively simple and easy to understand (UML also has similar modeling capabilities).

Coming back to the Understand Phase, in the workshops with the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), I also seek to understand the volumes of work, any major exceptions and the percentages of items that follow the major paths from decision points. The other thing to understand is the numbers of employees involved in the work (FTEs and the amount of time spent on each area of the process).  From that information you can calculate the costs of undertaking the work and where the money goes. You also need to understand the roles involved, and the capabilities of the staff members who fulfill those roles. All of these become essential ingredients for the business case. Without it you are whistling in the wind (when it comes to asking for funding). Even if you already have the funding, you should do this anyway (it will certainly be needed later).

I could go on here at length, but the point I am trying to make here with this blog post is this … if your consulting provider is asking you to fund a detailed “As Is” phase of work, then you are throwing money away. They are more interested in lining their pockets than assisting the client. The only exception that I can think of is where the process is itself highly regulated (and a rigorous work definition is mandated by law). In such cases, I think you have to draw your own conclusions on how to avoid “analysis paralysis.”

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Case Handling Discussion

December 16, 2007

Mea Culpa – yes, like others in this space, the challenge is keeping the blog going. Usual story of not managing to keep the clones working properly while I am sleeping. Lots of things to start sharing here … and now that I am out from under the endless train of deliverables and trainign courses, I should be able to find the odd bit of time.

The reason for this long awaited posting … I felt I wanted to pick up on discussions emerging in the BPM space – driven by Henk de Man’s presentation at the OMG meeting last week. He was talking to the need for better modeling approaches to support Case Handling (or Case Management depending on your perspective).

Like James Taylor (name now corrected),  I thought Henk’s presentation was also interesting. And as I pointed out during the session, a great many processes should be viewed in the Case Handling context. Readers might also be interested in the papers I produced that discuss these sorts of issues. But really getting at it from the pov of the Customer and Processes – “Business Processes and Customers – Difficult Domains to Integrate” available in the White Papers section of the BPM Focus web site.

The core of Henk’s presentation was that BPMN style modeling is not much help when trying to capture the essence of Case Handling. His own product has a strong Case Handling orientation and uses “States” and “Events” to enable some of the flexibility that Case Handling apps demand. In my experience, the key differentiating factor (between a tranditional workflow/BPMS app and Case Handling) is that the emphasis is with Case – it may have many processes and documents associated with it.

I suggested to him that he investigate Role Activity Diagrams (a way of modeling at how the Roles involved change state as a result of the actions and interactions that occur). This is perhaps much more appropriate for the state based view he was hankering after. The best reference on this is Martyn Ould’s book “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach”

But all should understand that Case Handling approaches have been around for a very long time. They are everywhere you look once you get it in your head. Think of these:

  • Government – State and local government, NGOs, Police, Justice (investigations), Land mgt …
  • Financial Services
  • Insurance – Every claim is an exception
  • Banking – Trade exception handling, premium account management
  • Healthcare – From clinical provision to administrative management and payment
  • Oil & Gas Exploration- Knowledge workers spread thinlyaround the world
  • Pharmaceuticals – Clinical trials, compound development, marketing campaign management
  • Virtually all “professions
  • Wide range of Small to Medium sized contexts
  • All sort of Procurement situations
  • Customer Contact Centers – across virtually all industries, where they validate, identify work items and then resolve … here 80% of all calls are WISMO (What Is the Status of My Order)
  • Even the weekly Staff Meeting is a kind of case handling situation if you look at it from a process point of view.

All of them have continually unfolding, evolving scenarios. That is where BPM needs to concentrate its efforts. The transactional space that has characterised efforts to date is really pretty straight forward. Case Handling involves synchronous interaction with users, long running case resolution situations, multiple process fragments, knowledge work, …

Interesting vendors in this space are few and far between. At one level it is big systems implementations such as Cordys, Pega and Graham Technology. But there is a simpler more accessible level that is best characterised by folks like Itensil (in my mind one of the most itneresting I have come across). I am sure, that with care you could implement TIBCO, Appian and Lombardi to build effective Case Handling situations, but it is really a quesiton of adopting the right style of design thinking. And with more and more of these vendors offering SaaS delivery mechanisms, I think we are going to see an ever increasing level of innovation in this area.


Doesn’t time fly

June 9, 2007

Well it seems only 5 minutes ago that I was apologizing for my clone management interface not working properly, and here I am just two weeks since the last posting (looking out at a wet and windy Sydney harbor).

Yesterday I finished the first Southern Hemisphere BPM Focus Workshop – the Process Modeling Fundamentals course went down fairly well, and it was good to see a different perspective on BPM. As usual with these things, I discover a new crop of BPMN modeling tools vendors that I didnt know anything about (I suppose I should pay more attention to the BPMN Supporters page as the vendor I had in mind is mentioned there.

One aspect of the Process Modeling fundamentals course that is usually overlooked by folks signing up for the course is the second modeling notation we teach – Role Activity Diagrams. It has become quite apparent that this technique is where delegates get a lot of value. Incorrectly, people assume that BPMN is also associated with a specific methodology – BPMN is method agnostic and is perhaps most relevant when you are looking at the implementation journey of business process. It is less useful for the upstream activity of discovery and understanding of processes. That is where RADs really excel – they are really useful for understanding a given domain and putting a particular issue under the microscope.

What is starting to emerge from these courses is that folks who already think they know process (i.e. IT indoctrinated people) struggle to get their head around RADs, whereas people from the business domain (end users) who have only a superficial understanding of process glom onto it (RADs) immediately. Otoh, the very same people struggle with BPMN – regarding it as just too hard to get their heads around.

With luck, we will soon have a mapping from RADs back to BPDM and along with wider support for BPMN-BPDM, that will provide an effective translation between the two modeling paradigms.

For those of you interested in when-where the next courses will take place – we are still in planning mode there, so now is your time to influence us on location and timing (send me an email directly to miers @ bpmfocus.org).


It Has Been A While – BPM Training, New Site

January 26, 2007

I know it has been the best part of a couple of months since I posted anything … but it is all to do with the pressures of work and the need for a holiday. But now back into the swing of things and you should at least see a posting from me every week.

One thing I did want to let you know about was out upcoming training schedule for BPM Focus. The BPMF Learning Framework is continuing its onward development (now incorporating two key courses – “Starting Out and Rolling Out BPM Programs” and “Advanced Process Modeling.”

Starting Out and Rolling Out BPM Programs is really focused around ensuring that projects are appropriately set up and managed. The December session was very successful and we expect torun further events across the US and Europe over the coming year. The next public courses at this level will be March 21-22 in San Francisco and April 18-19 in London.

Advanced Proced Modeling – this is a new course developed in conjunction with the best in the business – the main original author of the BPMN spec (cant say who until we complete the negotiations with his employer); and Martyn Ould (the grandfather of one of my favourite techniques – Role Activity Diagrams). APM will give you all you need to know about BPMN, RADs and Business Capability modeling. It will be available online by mid-year. The first instructor led versions of this training are scheduled to be Santa Monica (April 2nd and 3rd) and in London on May 1st and 2nd). A full schedule of events will be available on the BPMF web site.

And talking of web sites, we have been developing a new site, which should go live in the next week or so … these things always seem to take longer than you expect. This new site will shortly include a BPMM self assessment tool, user log-in … to come is a wide variety of new services and content that registered users will have access to.

In the short term, if you are interested in the training, please contact me directly (miers @ bpmfocus.org).

Till next time – Derek